Training camp goals
1. Find a third receiver.
The Broncos have some options, but all have a question mark. Veterans Brandon Stokley and Rod Smith have had productive careers, but both are coming off major injuries. The team likes Domenik Hixon, a fourth-round pick in 2006, but Hixon didn't play at all last season because of a foot injury.
Stokley, who tore an Achilles' tendon last year, returned for limited work in Denver's July minicamp. Smith had hip surgery in February, and he hasn't returned to practice. Either one could be a reliable option in three-receiver sets if healthy. Smith is two years removed from a 1,000-yard season and Stokley has also had a 1,000-yard campaign in his career.
There are even some questions at the starting spot opposite Javon Walker. Brandon Marshall played very well late last season as a rookie, but minor injuries have nagged him all off-season. Marshall needs to show he can stay healthy, or the Broncos have even more issues at receiver. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said he likes the depth at receiver. During camp he has to figure out who can play and what the pecking order will be.
2. Master the new defensive scheme.
So far, new assistant head coach/defense Jim Bates' scheme is getting good reviews. It isn't complicated, so there shouldn't be too many mistakes during camp after months of off-season practices.
The Broncos do have some new starters on defense, D.J. Williams is moving from outside linebacker to the middle - which is a key position in Bates' scheme - and the Broncos drafted three rookie linemen. So there will be some teaching during camp, but that should be ironed out before the season starts.
3. Get the offensive line right.
The offensive line will have two new starters on the right side of the line and another starter returning from a torn ACL, so this usually steady unit will be worth watching during camp.
Offensive left tackle Matt Lepsis practiced fully in the team's July minicamp, which is a great sign for the line. Second-year player Chris Kuper seems to have taken the lead to start at right guard, and the team likes his potential. Erik Pears has moved from left tackle to right, and will probably be the starter.
Center Tom Nalen is getting older, but the team still thinks he has something left. Ben Hamilton is steady at left guard. The line will have to be solid so the Broncos can return to their style of pounding the game on the ground, especially with new acquisition Travis Henry carrying the load at tailback.
CAMP CALENDAR: The Broncos report to camp on July 28, their first practice is July 29. The Broncos travel to Texas for joint practices with the Cowboys on Aug. 15 and 16.
--Rod Smith hasn't returned to practice yet. Smith, who had hip surgery in February, would have to make a quick recovery to be ready for the start of training camp. He hasn't ruled that out, but insisted he will be patient in his recovery.
--Brandon Stokley returned to practice at the end of Denver's July minicamp. He was limited but just making it back on the field was good progress. Stokley's season ended last year when he tore his Achilles' tendon.
--The Broncos signed the first member of their four-player draft class, inking defensive tackle Marcus Thomas to a four-year deal. Thomas was kicked off Florida's team last year and slipped to the fourth round of the draft because of character issues. The Broncos took a chance on him, but have safeguards in the contract in case Thomas makes another mistake.
"They did do some things to protect themselves if Marcus doesn't pan out," said Thomas' agent Richard Burnoski.
--Broncos coach Mike Shanahan let the players go after only two days of minicamp practice. Shanahan usually takes the team on a bowling trip on the third day of the mandatory minicamp, which the team holds in July, but made that trip after the second day of practice this year and canceled the third day.
"(Shanahan) is real good at throwing bones out there when we perform well," safety John Lynch said.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It has been an outstanding off-season." - Broncos safety John Lynch on the progress of the team in off-season practices.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Broncos always look at the waiver wire for potential improvements, but they were pretty thorough in their off-season shopping. Most of the needs were met, and they acquired two big defensive tackles, Sam Adams and Jimmy Kennedy, after the market had all but dried up.
There isn't likely to be a player who is available that can step in and make an immediate impact, but the Broncos will keep searching. Depth at linebacker could be one area of need.
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